Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word NO-BRAINER as a noun referring to something that requires a minimum of thought. I already know what you’re thinking… you come to this site for travel advice and not for me to regurgitate definitions to you that you can easily Google for yourself or for my sub-par grammar tips, so I’ll come back to this tidbit of knowledge I just dropped on you later…
I had loosely planned my trip to visit the Finger Lakes a few times over the past couple years, so when my plans finally solidified and my plane ticket was booked, I became SUPER excited. In fact, in the weeks leading up to my trip to the Southern Finger Lakes region, I was so excited that I told each friend, co-worker and random stranger in the grocery store about my upcoming travel plans. Much to my surprise and dismay, I received the same response from almost every person I told:
“Where is the Finger Lakes and why are you going there?”
Excuuuuuuuuuuuse me? (Am I speaking Greek?) Do you even drink wine?! I can’t even…
Okay, I didn’t actually say any of these things, but I truly was confused. For me, a wine enthusiast to the nth degree, visiting the Finger Lakes wineries have been on my travel radar for a while (and I have the Pinterest Board to prove it). I’ve trotted around the globe and have been lucky enough to drink vino in some of the most beautiful wine destinations in the world, including Burgundy, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia… I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea: I like wine. (A LOT). If we are talking about bucket list American wine destinations, the Finger Lakes was the place that I wanted to travel to the most once I had finally checked Napa off my list. (Note: The term “wine enthusiast” should NOT be confused with “wine snob.” For the life of me, I will never use a wine spit bucket or understand the concept of it… Why on earth would anyone spit out wine perfectly good wine?!) But I digress, back to the Finger Lakes:
The Finger Lakes are a group of 11 long and thin lakes in central New York state.
Get with it – the Finger Lakes are a big deal, people! But you don’t have to take my word for it – instead you could read these articles from Food & Wine, The Atlantic and CNN. Or, perhaps you’re a self-proclaimed wine snob? If this is the case, then you actually REALLY should not take my word for it… but, how about the fact that a panel of (real) sommeliers ranked the Finger Lakes as THE best wine region in the USA? (Take that, Napa).
You probably get it now – the Finger Lakes are legit. Shame on you for not knowing sooner, but this is now when I stop chastising you and actually tell you about why you should plan your own trip to the Finger Lakes, NY. BTW – not a wine drinker? Although I can’t wrap my mind around that concept either, stick with me here, the Finger Lakes have a LOT more to offer visitors other than “just” wine.
8 Reasons Why Visiting the Finger Lakes is a No-Brainer:
Wine, wine and more wine.
Let’s start with the most obvious reason, shall we? Finger Lakes wineries. Call yourself what you may, whether you’re a wine enthusiast, wine snob, oenophile or a wino, you’re going to be quite happy visiting the Finger Lakes wineries.
Dr. Frank’s is undoubtedly the most famous producer in the area (he’s basically The Godfather of east coast wine making) and you’d be remiss not to stop by for a tasting; however, the Finger Lakes have a lot of lesser known boutique wineries that really make the area unique. I love visiting smaller wineries because the experience is more intimate and you’ll have one-on-one attention (which is great if you like to pepper the poor soul behind the counter with a ton of questions…or tipsy non-stop dialogue after several tastings… #guilty). Or, if you’re really lucky, perhaps the person pouring your wine is the winemaker himself…
I would strongly encourage you to head on over to the west side of Keuka Lake and pop in to say hello to Winemaker Hans Peter Weis at his fairly new (established in May 2017) and appropriately named, Weis Vineyards. Although his winery is only about a year old, Weis has been a winemaker for basically his whole life. Born in Zell Mosel, Germany, he grew up in a wine producing family and ended settling down in the Finger Lakes and gracing the area with his expertise because the soil and climate is similar to where he grew up in Germany. Visiting Weis Vineyards was a true delight for me (and not just because it was my first tasting of the day at 10:00 a.m.). Having just returned from visiting the Mosel Valley in Germany on a girls getaway wine-tasting-vacay, I loved experiencing the hand-crafted German style wines without having to trek all the way to Europe. The wines were delicious and I really enjoyed chatting with Weis, who is not only an excellent winemaker, but an overall super nice guy.
After Weis Vineyards, head to Ravines Wine Cellars for a tasting. This Finger Lake winery specializes in French-style, dry, food-friendly wines. Do yourself a favor and be sure to order one of Ravines‘ food/wine combination tastings – several of the wines completely transform in your mouth with the well-paired bites. Milk chocolate with sesame oil, sea salt and topped with toasted sesame seeds was paired with their Chardonnay. The chocolate completely changed and complimented the flavor of the wine. It blew me away!
If you like dry wines, you’ll want to head to close by Domaine LeSeurre for a tasting (and a view) that will leave you wanting more. Winemakers Sebastien and Celine grew up in the vineyards of France and make all of Domaine LeSeurre’s wines by taste.
You can live the Lake Life.
As you may have guessed, the area lends itself to a plethora of water activities you can partake in. If you’re feeling active, you can explore Y-shaped Keuka Lake on a stand-up paddle board or kayak with Keuka Watersports. If you’re not quite feeling up to water sports (P. S. that’s called a hangover), you can take it easy and enjoy a sunset Schooner sail on scenic Seneca Lake with Schooner Excursions.
The natural beauty will blow you away.
This amazing slice of America I’ve been rambling on about is located in the midst of stunning natural beauty. It’s obvious that you’ll see some really pretty lakes, but did you know that the area is also renowned for it’s waterfalls?
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. The park has a reputation of leaving visitors spellbound, and I can absolutely see why after experiencing it for myself. The glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs and is home to 19 waterfalls… NINETEEN! A jaunt through Watkins Glen State Park’s Gorge Trail should absolutely be on your must-do list while visiting the Finger Lakes.
Consider yourself cultured with the area’s history and museums.
The Corning Museum of Glass will make you see glass in a whole new light. I’ve discussed before how I’m not the type of traveler who visits museums just because my guidebook tells me I should – the museum’s content actually has to interest me if I’m going to spend my precious vacation time there. I’m going to be completely honest with you… I didn’t think this museum would be “my thing,” but I’m so glad I went. I loved it and found the museum to be super interesting. The galleries take you through 3,500 years of history as it relates to glassmaking and had a special exhibit dedicated to famed Tiffany glass at the time of my visit.The best part? You can mold liquid glass (which is hotter than volcanic lava!) and make your own souvenir to take home with you and remember your trip. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you – so add this to your Finger Lakes Must See & Do List.
You’ll be in your element in the Finger Lakes if you’re a museum buff. The Southern Finger Lakes area is also home to The Rockwell Museum, Mark Twain’s Elmira, the Arnot Art Museum and several others you can find out more info about here.
Even if museums aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll fall in love with the Gaffer District in Corning and Hammondsport‘s Village Square – both of these re-vamped downtown districts are as cute as can be and are chock-full with impressive architecture and historic buildings. Village Square has a Dickens-vibe and is filled with antique and boutique shops. However, pace your credit card swiping because the trendy Gaffer District has over 100 unique shops, galleries and restaurants you’ll also want to peruse.
Please your trouble-making side with loads of live music and lively night life.
I also expected the Finger Lakes to have a sleepy (at best) nightlife scene. I was wrong. I found the area to have plenty of later-night haunts for those looking to get into a bit of trouble… or, if you’re better behaved than me, you could just relax and listen to some live music.
Seek Thrills in the Finger Lakes.
You probably wouldn’t assume that you can get your adrenaline pumping in the Finger Lakes, right?
Google gliding or soaring and you’ll see why. Even the most extreme adrenaline junkie can satisfy their addiction by getting in a motorless fiberglass contraption known as a glider, which is towed by a prop plane and then released mid-air… meaning that your pilot will solely be relying on catching air streams to safely float the glider back down to earth. After I watched a couple YouTube videos I quickly concluded that you’d have to be a crazy person to try it… so I promptly notified the tourism bureau to #SignMeUp. (Never mind that pesky fear of heights that I’ve talked about here, here and here).
Sadly, the weather was uncooperative during my visit and I wasn’t able to experience a glider ride for myself, but I did talk to a few glider pilots who swear up and down that the experience is zen-like and that time nearly stands still as you slowly, silently and gracefully float down to the earth. If you’re ever going to experience a glider ride, the Finger Lakes is the place to do it. Harris Hill is considered the Soaring Capital of America. (Or, if you’d prefer to leave the risk taking to the have-no-fear crazies, you could just visit The National Soaring Museum in Elmira to learn more about gliding instead). 🙂
Even if you’re not much of a risk taker, you MUST experience a seaplane ride over the Finger Lakes! This was only my second ride in a seaplane and it was the smallest plane I’ve ever been in, so I was a tad anxious, but pilots Andy Sable and Bob Knill of Finger Lakes Seaplanes were top-notch and made me feel super secure and safe.
THE best way to fully appreciate the beauty of uniquely-shaped Keuka Lake is from above! I was already smitten with the area, but my seaplane ride over the lake helped seal the deal.
I can sum up the Finger Lakes food scene in one word: Yum.
It’s simple math:
Wine + a fresh Farm-to-Table scene = 1 delicious foodie haven
I didn’t have a meal I didn’t adore while in the Finger Lakes. A few of my favorites were The Cellar in Corning, Blue Pointe Grille in Watkins Glen, Union Block Italian Bistro in Hammondsport and my lunch at Bully Hill Vineyards. If you truly want to experience “farm to table” visit Sunset View Creamery to tour the family owned and operated dairy farm and taste their artisan cheese. (As an added bonus the baby cows at the farm are positively adorable)!
You can also drink craft beer. Lots of it.
Another thing I didn’t expect to discover in the Finger Lakes was a thriving craft brewery scene. The Finger Lakes don’t just produce world class wine, there are also TONS of craft breweries! Consider this mind boggled. A few of my favorites were Brewery of Broken Dreams (how do you not stop in for a tasting with a name like that!), Upstate Brewing Company and Grist Iron Brewing Company (I can also vouch for Grist Iron’s awesome food).
When I get really excited I talk (and write) a LOT, so if you’d like me just to cut to the chase after these 2,000+ words, I finally will… I LOVED MY TRIP TO THE FINGER LAKES!
If you’re still asking your asking yourself if you should visit, I’d politely suggest that you refer to the first paragraph of this post, but if I were to be less polite, perhaps I might say something like: Why do you think I’ve been rambling on and on (and on some more)?
THE FINGER LAKES ARE A NO-BRAINER. Duh.
(Although I’d never be so sassy, of course)! 🙂
Finger Lakes Essential Info
How to get to the Southern Finger Lakes:
You can fly directly into Elmira, NY. The Elmira/Corning Regional Airport (ELM) is just about 10 minutes from Corning. You can also fly into Ithaca, NY (less than an hour from Corning) or Rochester, NY (approx. 90 minutes).
How to get around the Finger Lakes:
I’d recommend that you rent a car to explore the Finger Lakes. Not to sound like your mother, but PLEASE make sure you have a DD, hire a driver or stay walking distance to attractions if you plan to sample the area’s ample wine, beer or spirit offerings (or if you’re prone to over-indulging like yours truly).
Finger Lakes Long Weekend Itinerary
It’s impossible to visit the whole area in a long weekend, so my itinerary focused on a portion of the Southern Finger Lakes Region near Keuka and Seneca Lakes. The following was my itinerary (which I would totally recommend and will help you jam-pack a bunch into your visit, but can easily be tweaked depending on your personal interests).
Day 1 – Arrive Elmira/Corning Regional Airport, explore Corning (overnight).
Day 2 – Drive to Hammondsport (overnight) for a jam-packed day spent on Lake Keuka and wine tasting.
Day 3 – Explore Elmira on the way to Watkins Glen (overnight).
Day 4 – Experience more of Watkins Glen prior to your flight departing that evening from Elmira/Corning Regional Airport.
The good people at Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau, Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce and Chemung County Chamber of Commerce have made it super simple for you to plan and your trip based on your interests, so be sure to check out their websites to build your own tailor-made itinerary!
Are the Finger Lakes on your travel radar?
My trip to the Finger Lakes was hosted by the above mentioned CVB and Chambers of Commerce, but I promise that my thoughts, opinions and enthusiasm is 100% my own! Header/Pin image of Keuka Lake & Dock by Steve Ainsworth.
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